Why You Should Pay Attention to Lumen8Anacostia
No judgements here. Lumen8Anacostia—the first of four "Temporium" initiatives that D.C.'s Office of Planning is funding through a $250,000 ArtPlace grant—opens this weekend with a 12-hour fete, and I'm eager to see how it plays out. Art parties, like art, shouldn't be reviewed until you see the final product.
Lumen8Anacostia deserves to be considered carefully, because 1) it's a series of interesting cultural events and this is, after all, an arts blog; 2) it's the biggest realization yet of a concept D.C. has seen a lot of in recent years, the (I think unproven) notion that by "activating" a vacant space, you can contribute to or even spur economic development; and 3) it twists the Temporium/pop-up/cultural-class-as-economic-driver idiom in some notable ways. The on-the-ground curating is largely the work of ARCH Development Corporation, a nonprofit that owns a number of storefronts in Historic Anacostia and specializes in arts-based community revitalization. Also involved in Lumen8 are the Pink Line Project, Alliance Francaise, and dozens of arts groups, artists, and businesses.
Alex Baca covered point No. 1 in a City Lights pick in this week's Washington City Paper:
ARCH Development is doing it real big. The local nonprofit is one of the partners behind LUMEN8Anacostia, the initiative that will open pop-ups and art shows in the neighborhood’s vacant storefronts. [On Saturday], ARCH kicks off the happenings with a grand festival, and while purveyor of manufactured cool The Pink Line Project is hosting a big launch party, this is ARCH’s celebration. It’s worked for more than 20 years to revitalize Anacostia’s commercial strip with a creative-economy bent (jump-starting, notably, Honfleur Gallery and Vivid Solutions Print Lab). The Pink Line-led soirée kicks off at noon at The Lightbox (the name organizers have given to an old police storage warehouse on Shannon Place SE), but festivities—including exhibits at Vivid Solutions, theater by the Serenity Players, live music, breakdancing, and slam poetry—will dot Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue and Good Hope Road all night. Silent films and light projects start at dusk. The Washington Area Bicyclist Association is hosting a bike valet, and Busboys & Poets is catering. The menu includes vegan parfaits.
Vegan parfaits! So tomorrow's launch party should be exciting. For your reference, here are full lists of the Temporia on Good Hope Road and MLK; the pop-up shops and installations at Lightbox tomorrow; and the performers at the Party Behind the Big Chair at 2020 Shannon Place SE, which is also tomorrow.
Point No. 2: Lumen8 is really, really big—and in pop-up terms, will stick around for a really long time. The first District-funded Temporium—which was curated by the Pink Line Project—occupied a former library on H Street NE for four weeks in 2010. Retail- and art-focused Temporia—which also featured some performing arts—followed in 2011 in Mount Pleasant and Mount Vernon Square. Brightest Young Things mounted a more corporate version of the concept last summer with its vitaminwater uncapped LIVE space on 14th Street NW, which was open for a month. (The programming was solid, though the endeavor didn't really have anything to do with economic development.)
Lumen8 will last three months, and some of its pop-up spaces on MLK and Good Hope could stick around longer, ARCH's chief operating officer, Phil Hutinet, said at a preview event at Honfleur Gallery on Tuesday. ARCH owns some of the spaces; others have different landlords.
Following this weekend's launch event and a ticketed Cherry Blast art party next weekend, the Pink Line will continue to do programming at the Lightbox warehouse. One possibility is a series of "secret" shows, like this one, featuring local and out-of-town bands within the steampunkish Monica Canilao installation (part of the D.C. arts commission's ongoing 5x5 project—synergy!) on Lightbox's roof. Also, Pink Line leader Philippa Hughes says another large-scale party is a possibility for June. After that, the Pink Line will probably have to go. The property's owner, Stan Voudrie of Four Points LLC, writes in an email that demolition begins in June or July for his planned project of office space.
Hughes says the three-month span of Lumen8 and Lightbox is important. "I do it and a lot of people do it—we’re around looking for space all the time, we do these pop-up things," she says. "But it doesn’t build any momentum, it doesn’t build anything that will last. That’s sort of the fallacy of doing these pop-up retails and pop-up parties. We need to think of more of a longterm popup—it needs to be longterm but not permanent. It takes a long time for neighborhoods to turn over and be revived. Doing one thing is not enough. You have to kind of dedicate to the temporary use."
Hughes, while acknowledging that many factors contribute to economic development, subscribes to the tenet that undergirds most temporary-urbanism initiatives: "Nobody's going to invest in the neighborhood unless they think that people will come." That's what Lumen8 hopes to demonstrate.
So the Pink Line wants to be in Historic Anacostia—even though, Hughes stresses, they're not making much money for their efforts. But do residents of the neighborhood want them there? (I'm eager to ask some on Saturday.) "We’re a long ways away of having perfect understanding. Our experience so far has been extremely curious and helpful. But I also get a sense is there’s a certain leeriness" from a neighborhood used to vague promises of renewal, Hughes says. Some of the workers building out the Lightbox space are from the neighborhood, Pink Line's Josef Palermo said during a tour Tuesday. "We've really tried not to be interlopers," he said.
Point No. 3: In several ways, Lumen8 is an interesting hybrid. For starters, it combines the concept of temporary retail and art spaces with, well, the all-night/all-purpose party spot.
More importantly, it's a cultural mashup. On Tuesday night, I met a handful of the artists who are exhibiting in the spaces on MLK and Good Hope, and they (mostly) live east of the Anacostia, (mostly) work in representational styles, and are (mostly) black. The Pink Line-curated occupants of the Lightbox space are (mostly) cultural-class mainstays (see familiar names like Bluebrain and Busboys & Poets), the art is (mostly) conceptual, and the people making it are (mostly) white. On Tuesday, Palermo described the whole thing as a meeting of west of the river and east of the river.
Which—not trying to be cheesy or sentimental here—is great. I imagine most people will go for one aspect of Lumen8 and end up wandering into another. I have no idea what lasting impact Lumen8 will have—or even if it should have one—but if its Temporium-on-steroids concept manages to bring relatively insular communities of artists and their audiences together, that's win-win.
The Lightbox party begins at noon at 2235 Shannon Pl. SE. The party Behind the Big Chair begins at 4 p.m. at 2020 Shannon Place SE. Many temporia remain open through June. All events are free. lumen8anacostia.com.